Theme Parks and Obstacle Courses – A Novel

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46

“Fifteen Love,” said Wally, spinning his racquet and bending his legs ambitiously.

“We won’t score,” said Nir. It was intended to be friendly, but Pat absorbed it as condescension.

“Yeah, right,” he said, and felt Wally steal a look at him.

Nir’s second serve was a similar affair, but slower. The first one was to let them know where they stood as inferiors. Pat made a show of running easily to intercept it. Nir turned and hit the ball to Wally, who returned more aggressively.

When Pat hit a ball, he was happy if rubber met strings and the ball crossed the net; it was equivalent to James Bond living to fight another day. When Nir hit, however, it was precise. While Wally could aim for your body, Nir could aim for your hand, or your knee, or your head.

Nir rallied with Wally for a few shots, placing his returns closer and closer to the vertical line that delineated Pat’s and Wally’s halves. Wally had to stretch further and further, just making each return, until the top of his racquet met the ball instead of the strings.

The fibreglass frame gave a wooden buzzing sound as the ball caromed off, parallel with the net. Pat flashed out with his own racquet and batted the ball straight down the back of Nir’s end of the court. It landed a few feet inside the base line.

“Score!” said Pat, throwing his racquet into the net. “Howzat!”

“Can you have a lay-up in tennis?” asked Wally, laughing.

“In our game, I think you can,” said Nir. “15 all.”

The three played for some time, people coming off and on the other courts around them. They scored for a few games, but gave it away soon enough; the most compelling thing was the next point.

Nir settled into his style, Wally recovered his and Pat reached towards his own, pushed right up against the fundamental limitations of his ability by the other two players.

The descending sun flared against the top of the chain-link fence, cutting into Pat’s vision. The grip tape of the racquet stuck to the raw, chafed skin of his hands. Wally had sat out for the last couple of games; bag at his feet, water bottle in his lap.

Pat had developed enough of a feel for Nir’s game to occasionally surprise him. They were playing like kids now, where rules were primarily important as a framework for play.

Nir and Pat sallied right down to the net. Pat swung a wild shot that almost escaped Nir; he had to swat it back reflexively, and couldn’t modulate the speed.

This ramped up the intensity. Nir, now having to fight to regain control of the point, started to push Pat hard. Pat ran and leaped after each shot, returning each one.

“Way to go, Patty!” said Wally, sounding surprise as much as encouragement. And, like a kid that suddenly realises it can swim when it’s out of its depth, Pat realised he had become a different player to the one who had walked on the court earlier that afternoon.

Pat began to sound the true depths of Nir’s ability as his capacity extended. He made a shot he was sure would get past, stretching arm and racquet out, superman-style.

Nir stayed tight, however, and sliced with his racquet to bring the return right down the middle of Pat’s gracefully extended figure.

The ball slipped under his arm and away, possessed of its own trajectory as surely as a bird. Pat landed funny, his ankle unstable on the ground that came up underneath him too early. He felt his shoe slide in the sand as he fell, momentum grinding his knee into the Astroturf.

He broke his fall with his empty hand and pushed himself back to standing, using his racquet like a crutch. Nir came to the net. Pat went to meet him, presumably to shake hands, but Nir shifted his racquet to his other hand and pointed.

Pat looked at his leg. Blood flowed down his shin from the bright red graze on his knee.

“Blood,” said Nir. “That’s good.”

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